Cristy Verdeja, a PR account executive in Miami, has been happily married for just over a year. But though she has found bliss with her soul mate, she sometimes keeps secrets from him — of the financial variety.
“When I’m feeling especially guilty about wanting something new, I pay cash for my purchase, hide it in my purse, and take it out, take off the tags and hang it up when my husband is in the shower,” Verdeja said.
For Verdeja, it just feels easier to keep those occasional retail therapy fixes to herself, rather than to having to justify the ramifications of those purchases to her husband.
She’s hardly alone. Though 82% of all couples surveyed say they’ve never kept a spending secret from their partner, according to a new report from ING Direct and Capital One, that leaves a lot of people using all sorts of tricks to hide some purchases.
Actually, younger couples like the Verdejas are apparently, on average, the most honest: 87% of 18- to 34-year-olds say they’ve never kept a spending secret. Among 55- to 64-year-olds, that percentage declines to 78%.
“It’s refreshing to learn that young people are more open to these conversations about personal and family finances, while also avoiding getting into debt,” said Jim Kelly, Head of Direct Bank, ING Direct USA.
With two out of three couples sharing checking and savings accounts, Kelly says today’s spouses are “ushering in a new landscape of financial transparency.”
But for some, that openness can also be seen as an infringement of personal privacy. That’s why Verdeja supports shared accounts — with a twist.
“I have absolutely no problem with shared accounts,” she said. “I just play games with my money — and my husband’s, it is shared after all — as my mother taught me.” Verdeja says her husband is aware of her “secret stash,” but he doesn’t mind because he also reaps the benefits of the surprises it allows. “I essentially steal our money and put it away to be able to pay for Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, something special or, quite simply, my shopping habit — the much worse one that he doesn’t always see.”
But beyond giving each other room for a bit of discretionary spending and surprises on appropriate occasions, financial honesty between partners is essential.
“I think it’s important to be financially responsible and honest with one another about budget, spending habits, paying in cash and the need to have some privacy,” said Verdeja. “If we talk about it openly, it’s no problem.”
So Verdeja and her husband have a few ground rules: No peeking at the bank account near big “gift” events. Verdeja’s husband just asks that she provide him with a range of what she’ll be spending so they they can keep their balance in check month to month.
That may the true secret to “secret” spending: It’s only OK if it doesn’t lead to overdraft charges or depleted accounts, says Ted Jenkin, CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial in Alpharetta, Ga.
“You should preset an agreed upon budget for things like personal birthdays, kids’ birthdays and holiday time,” Jenkin said. “This way, nobody feels like they have to sneak around or underspend or overspend for one of these special days.”
David Bakke, an editor at Money Crashers, learned the hard way about honest budgeting when his marriage fell apart after just under four years. He and his wife shared an account for monthly expenses and a joint retirement account, but also maintained separate accounts, and agreed with each other on a $200 per item limit.
“Anything that cost more required permission from the other spouse,” he said. “In any instance in which I was worried about embarrassment or guilt due to a potential purchase, that was a sign that I probably didn’t need the item to begin with. Therefore, I tried to never make such purchases.” But when self-restraint proved inadequate, he would keep such purchases a secret.
“As our marriage deteriorated,” Bakke said, “we both stopped contributing sufficiently to the joint retirement account, and we stopped following the $200 rule as well. We were both guilty, and this forced me to hide … some of my purchases.”
He attributes their inability to budget — as their spending went haywire on the sly — as a major contributing factor to the divorce.
Mars Vs. Venus
When it comes to financial chicanery, there are — no surprise — some gender differences. Women are most likely to hide clothing or accessory purchases (1 in 4 said she would) , while men are most likely to hide gift purchases (1 in 5 said he would), according to the ING Direct and Capital One survey. And women are more concerned about being in the loop: 66% said they’d be upset if a significant other hid spending from them, whereas only 53% of men said they would. Further, 27% of women said that if they discovered their spouse was hiding spending — or a lunch with an ex — it could lead to an argument, while only 18% of men felt the same way.
In Miami, Rochelle Peachey, president of the trans-Atlantic dating site I Love Your Accent, pays for her husband’s gifts in cash or has a friend make the purchases and pays her back later. But when it comes to her own pampering, she has a unique technique.
“My hubby and I have a joint account and yes, it’s difficult when I don’t want him to know exactly how much I paid for my new shoes or how much my day at the salon cost,” she said. “I sometimes pay half in cash and the rest on our bank card, then it seems a much better deal in his eyes.”
Gallery: Personal Finance Tools For Mobile and Desktop
But those subterfuges go both ways: “I have no doubt that he does the same when buying golf equipment and such.” That receipt on the new lob wedge, after all, may not tell the whole story — or the whole price.
In fact, she knows for certain of one major instance when her husband tried to hide the cost of a large purchase: his Jaguar XKR.
“The funniest time was when he bought a new car, he told me one price,” Peachey said, “and then when his friend came to see the car and asked how much it cost, he had to tell him the same price he told me.”
“The friend was floored and kept saying, ‘Wow, what a deal, that is unbelievable … they’re $20,000 more than that online, you really lucked out, wow, wow…’ and on and on. I knew what was going on, and eventually we had a good laugh.”